by Ian Mann
July 04, 2022
The group’s sound offers an intriguing mix of memorable melodies alongside more complex harmonies and rhythms. It’s music that is eminently accessible, but also subtly challenging.
Kjetil Mulelid Trio
“Who Do You Love The Most?”
(Rune Grammofon RCD2229)
Kjetil Mulelid – piano, Bjorn Marius Hegge – double bass, Andreas Skar Winther – drums
“Who Do You Love The Most?” is the third album release from the Norwegian pianist and composer Kjetil Mulelid and his trio.
As with the group’s previous releases “Not Nearly Enough To Buy A House” (2017) and “What You Thought Was Home” (2019) the album appears on the Norwegian record label Rune Grammofon, home to so much adventurous music from Norway and beyond.
Both of the trio’s previous releases are reviewed elsewhere on The Jazzmann, as is Mulelid’s excellent solo album, simply titled “Piano”, which was released by Rune in 2021.
Also reviewed elsewhere on this site is a solo piano livestream performed by Mulelid in 2021 for the Reworks Festival in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Mulelid was raised in the small Norwegian village of Hurdal and has been playing piano since the age of nine, initially inspired by the music of Chopin, Beethoven and Debussy. He later developed an interest in jazz and subsequently obtained a bachelor degree in jazz performance from the NTNU in Trondheim before becoming a professional jazz musician.
Ironically he nearly didn’t become a professional pianist at all. In his teens he played electric guitar, influenced by rock groups such as Queen and Led Zeppelin, only returning to the piano when a teacher introduced him to the delights of jazz, gospel and boogie woogie.
Mulelid first came to my attention in 2013 as part of the Nordic trio Lauv (the group name is the Norwegian for “Leaf”), who released the highly promising EP “De Som Er Eldre Enn Voksne” in that year, the title translating as “Those Who Are Older Than Adults”. My review of the EP can be read here.
The following year I enjoyed seeing Mulelid perform live at the 2014 Cheltenham Jazz Festival when he was one of the star soloists at the annual Trondheim Jazz Exchange event, which sees students from the Jazz courses at the Birmingham and Trondheim Conservatoires combining to make music together and presenting the results to the jazz going public. Mulelid was one of the outstanding performers at that event and I justifiably tipped him as a musician to look out for in the years ahead. It’s particularly pleasing to see him fulfilling that promise.
Now aged thirty one Mulelid is a typical jazz musician of today, involved in a variety of genre defying projects embracing a broad range of musical influences. Lauv is no more but Mulelid leads his own piano trio (as previously discussed), forms half of the duo Kjemilie with vocalist Emilie Vasseljen Storaas and is part of the group Fieldfare, a song based, more pop orientated outfit featuring Winther, vocalist Siril Maldemal Hauge, and former Lauv bassist Bardur Reinert Poulsen.
Mulelid and Poulsen are also members of the instrumental quartet Wako, a group that also includes saxophonist Martin Myhre Olsen (who appeared at the Trondheim Jazz Exchange event in 2012) and drummer Simon Olderskog Albertsen. Initially Wako appeared to be primarily Olsen’s project and in the beginning he wrote all the material for the group. However Wako’s recent repertoire has also begun to include Mulelid’s compositions.
Mulelid also collaborates with Olsen as part of the saxophonist’s MMO Ensemble, a
jazz/classical quartet that also features vocalist Siril Maldemal Hauge and cellist Kaja Fjellberg Pettersen and is inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson.
Mulelid, Olsen and Hauge have also been part of the Norwegian sextet Wild Things Run Fast, a tribute to the music of Joni Mitchell.
However, for all this highly varied and richly fertile music activity Mulelid’s primary creative outlet remains his trio with bassist Bjorn Marius Hegge and Andreas Skar Winther, a line up that has remained constant over the course of the triumvirate’s three excellent albums.
“Who Do You Love The Most?” again builds on the success of its predecessors across a set of ten new pieces that include eight original compositions from the pen of Mulelid, a collective trio improvisation and a cover of the Judee Sill song “The Archetypal Man”.
Two of the Mulelid pieces appeared as solo piano performances on his previous album and it’s interesting to hear them rearranged for the trio.
The album commences with a composition simply titled “Paul”, which I took to be homage to the late, great drummer Paul Motian. It’s a thoughtful, lyrical piece with Winther playing very much in the style of the great man as he offers percussive commentary and colouration to Mulelid’s flowing piano melodies, while Hegge maintains an anchoring role at the bass. But Winther’s playing also unsettles the equilibrium, sometimes fracturing the lyrical mood - this is a trio that probes deeply, beyond notions of mere ‘prettiness’.
Mulelid’s playing has evoked comparisons with that of both Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, but he retains a very European, and specifically Norwegian perspective. Classical music and Scandinavian folk music inform his work, as exemplified by the highly melodic “Endless”, which may remind some listeners of the music of the Tord Gustavsen Trio. But for all the beauty of the melody Mulelid and the trio still push at the contours of the piece, subtly stretching the boundaries as they explore deeply and thoroughly, with Winther again playing a key role.
“The Road” introduces a Jarrett-like gospel feel to the music and features the trio at their most playful, with Winther’s drums shadowing Mulelid’s melodies. There’s a percussive quality to Mulelid’s playing on the most animated and dynamic piece on the album thus far.
“Remembering” combines Mulelid’s gorgeous piano melodies with Winther’s quirky percussive accompaniment, with Hegge’s bass also playing a prominent role in the arrangement.
“Point Of View” appeared on the solo piano album and it’s no less effective or beautiful in this new trio arrangement, with Winther’s exquisite cymbal work a particularly important element in the success of this latest version.
I can’t claim prior familiarity with the Judee Sill song “The Archetypal Man” but I love this gospelly piano trio arrangement from Mulelid and his colleagues. The piece is also notable for featuring Hegge’s first fully fledged bass solo on the album. The bassist is also a bandleader in his own right, leading his own trio and quintet. His quintet’s début album, simply titled “Hegge” was a recent winner of a Norwegian Grammy award.
“For You I’ll Do Anything” is another composition to feature as a solo piece on the “Piano” album. I recall noting its song-like structure and gorgeous melody. Here it is introduced by an extended passage of unaccompanied double bass before the leader’s piano lyricism takes over, supported by bass and Winther’s delicate but inventive brushwork.
Winther is in playful mood on the quirky “Imagine Your Front Door”, a brief but enjoyable collective improvisation credited to the trio as a whole. This features some fascinating percussive sounds alongside the slivers of piano melody and the low register rumble of double bass.
On an album that has evoked several references to “gospel” sounds it’s highly appropriate that there should be track actually called “Gospel”, and particularly one which finds the trio throwing themselves wholeheartedly into this style, albeit from their own unique perspective.
The album concludes with the hymn-like “Morning Song”, the beauty of Mulelid’s melodies evoking images of dawn breaking or of sunlight bursting through the clouds.
The trio’s third album continues to find them honing their approach. Their high level of rapport has ensured that as a collective the Mulelid trio have developed a style that is very much their own. In Mulelid himself they have a prolific composer with a rich melodic gift but the group’s sound offers an intriguing mix of memorable melodies alongside more complex harmonies and rhythms. It’s music that is eminently accessible but also subtly challenging, and it has its moments of humour and quirkiness too.
That said “Who Do You Love The Most?” doesn’t really break any new ground, but it does confirm the Mulelid group as one of Europe’s premier piano trios with a highly distinctive collective sound. Future developments will be awaited with interest.
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